In 1988 Major John Bowen made the generous gift to Hampshire Gardens Trust of a walled garden, one of the original 12th Century 'burgage' plots at the rear of 16 High Street, Petersfield. (A 'burgage', or borough, plot was usually a rental property, often a long site with a narrow street frontage, as found in many ancient towns.)
John Bowen had been incensed to read of the destruction of a site where rare orchids grew naturally and felt that he would like his garden to be held in trust for the education and enjoyment of the public whilst also playing a part in the conservation of wild and endangered plant species. Inspired by Chelsea Physic Garden, it was felt that the creation of a 17th Century style garden in three distinct sections would fulfil his purpose.
The original re-design of the garden in 1988 was created by Dr Sylvia Landsberg, a highly-respected pioneer in historic garden design. Working in collaboration with Major John Bowen and The Hampshire Gardens Trust, she designed the Physic Garden based on authenticity, meticulous historical research and Major Bowen's aims of providing a garden for education, enjoyment and conservation purposes.
An eminent resident of Petersfield in the 17th century was John Worlidge who might be described as an 'agricultural writer' and was the compiler of the first systematic treatise on husbandry on a large scale. One of his contemporary correspondents around 1681 mentions 'the ingenious Mr John Worlidge's contributions 'on a great improvement of land by parsley' and 'on improving and fyning of Syder'. Worlidge's 'Systema Agriculturæ, or the Mystery of Husbandry Discovered by J. W., Gent.' covers all manner of agricultural and garden practice and includes instructions on such matters as the cultivation, pruning and fan training of fruit. It ran to several editions well into the 18th century.
At the time of the introduction of formal physic gardens in Great Britain (Oxford 1621, Edinburgh 1670 and Chelsea 1673) John Goodyer, one of the most eminent botanists of the period, also lived and worked in Petersfield. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the emblem of the Petersfield Physic Garden is a flower bearing John Goodyer's name: Orchidaceae goodyera repens (Creeping Ladies' Tresses orchid). Goodyer grew and recorded many plants in detail and had an extensive library, both of botanical works and translations made by him. Although Goodyer was a steward for Sir Thomas Bilson of Mapledurham near Petersfield, he used his skill with plants to be a 'physic' or doctor to his family and neighbours. When he died in 1664 he left his library to Magdalen College, Oxford.